Nasopharyngeal cancer

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Treatments for nasopharyngeal cancer

If you have nasopharyngeal cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for nasopharyngeal cancer, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the stage of the cancer
  • the location of the cancer
  • your age and overall health
  • what you prefer or want

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is often used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. It may also be used to slow the growth of advanced nasopharyngeal cancer (called palliative treatment). You may have one of the following types of radiation therapy.

External beam radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation therapy used for nasopharyngeal cancer. During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it. It is used for all stages of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of external beam radiation therapy that delivers one large dose of radiation to a tumour as a single treatment. It may be used for nasopharyngeal cancer that comes back (recurs).

Chemoradiation combines radiation therapy with chemotherapy. The 2 treatments are given during the same time period. Each treatment makes the other more effective. Chemoradiation is used for most stages of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy that uses needles, catheters, wires or seeds to deliver radiation directly into or near a tumour. This type of radiation therapy may be used for recurrent nasopharyngeal cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is usually given with radiation therapy to treat most stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. This is called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy may be used alone after radiation therapy or chemoradiation or for nasopharyngeal cancer that has spread (metastasized) to distant sites.

Surgery

Surgery is rarely used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. It is often difficult to completely remove tumours in the nasopharynx using surgery. Depending on the stage and size of the tumour, you may have one of the following types of surgery.

Neck dissection is surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck (cervical lymph nodes). It is the surgery most commonly used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer.

Nasopharyngectomy is surgery to remove part of the nasopharynx. It may be used to remove small tumours that have not spread beyond the nasopharynx or for nasopharyngeal cancer that is left behind or recurs after radiation therapy.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. An immunotherapy drug may be given if the cancer comes back or spreads and has stopped responding to chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin or carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ).

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 7 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to people with nasopharyngeal cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

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